Pompeo visits Israeli West Bank settlement, Golan Heights in US first

SHAAR BINYAMIN (West Bank) • Mr Mike Pompeo has become the first US Secretary of State to visit an Israeli West Bank settlement and the Golan Heights, in a show of solidarity that has led Palestinians to accuse him of helping to cement Israeli control over occupied territory.

Mr Pompeo's trips on Thursday came during the Israeli leg of what may be his last tour of the Middle East in the final months of US President Donald Trump's administration. Mr Trump delighted Israel last year by recognising the country's claim to sovereignty over the area of the Golan Heights that it captured from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed, a move that was not internationally recognised.

Last year, Mr Pompeo, who is an evangelical Christian, broke with decades of US foreign policy to announce that the United States, under Mr Trump, no longer viewed Israel's settlements in the West Bank as "inconsistent with international law".

This, and other decisions, was greeted with dismay by the Palestinians, who boycotted the Trump White House for nearly three years, accusing it of consistent pro-Israel bias. The Palestinians have indicated they would resume relations as normal with Washington once President-elect Joe Biden takes office, widely seen as a gesture of goodwill towards his future administration.

However, it is unclear how many of Mr Trump's decisions will be reversed by a Biden administration.

The Syrian government has condemned what it called a "provocative" visit by Mr Pompeo.

"Pompeo's visit is a provocative step before the end of the Trump administration's term, and a flagrant violation of the sovereignty of the Syrian Arab Republic," said a Foreign Ministry statement.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 21, 2020, with the headline 'Pompeo visits Israeli West Bank settlement, Golan Heights in US first'. Print Edition | Subscribe